West Point schools, RCC embark on new career training partnership

jojacobs@tidewaterreview.com

School officials from West Point Public Schools and Rappahannock Community College hope a newly minted partnership will open doors for students to careers that require expanded technical training.

This fall, two West Point students will begin a welding course through the partnership.

“We saw a need for more technical training for high school students,” said Jason Perry, vice president of workforce and community development at Rappahannock Community College.

Kevin Lemke, along with rising senior David Lewis, are the two West Point High School students enrolled in the course. They are joined by eight Mathews High School students, which is also a partner in the program.

The students learned details about the program, toured Rappahannock Community College’s welding lab and met welding instructor Bill Pittman during the orientation Thursday.

While students won’t earn college credit or a degree in the course, they will have the chance to earn up to five American Welding Society credentials in subjects such as gas metal arc welding and shielded metal arc welding. Students earn high school credit in the program, and the credentials are tickets to entry-level positions in the industry once students graduate high school, Perry said.

Local demand

Welding jobs are aplenty in coastal Virginia, home of the Newport News Shipyard, where companies employ more than 20,000 workers to piece together naval ships and submarines.

By 2019, the United States will need to train 30,000 new welders, Perry said.

The pay isn’t bad either. The annual median pay for welders was $39,390 in May 2016, which is $2,350 more than the median wage for all workers at that time, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The pay a welder can expect and the opportunity to work with a variety of industrial materials makes the program appealing, Lemke said.

Earning credentials

The course, which is funded through school district and state money, will help students stand out from their peers when it comes to the job market, as high school graduates generally have similar and slim resumes and experience, Perry said.

Students can earn a credential after they complete each of the program’s five classes. Each class is seven weeks long. State money covers two-thirds of the expenses, leaving West Point Schools to pay $2,800 for both its students to complete all five classes, said David Daniel, West Point director of innovation and technology integration.

West Point Schools and the college have coordinated with a dual-enrollment program in the past. The upcoming welding course partnership represents the first step toward coordination in career training, Daniel said.

Other opportunities

West Point High School doesn’t have a welding lab or other on-site technical training programming. A partnership with Bridging Communities, a STEM academy in New Kent County, provides West Point students an avenue to nursing, coding, small engine technology and other careers. Ten students are expected to take courses through Bridging Communities in the upcoming school year, Daniel said.

West Point officials began to explore the partnership with Rappahannock Community College about a year and a half ago. Students will have to transport themselves to the college’s Glenns campus to take part in the course, Daniel said.

Officials expect the range of courses offered through the partnership to expand in the coming years. Some other courses which may be offered through the partnership include carpentry, pharmacy and plumbing. Ideally, a new course would be added to the partnership program annually, Perry said.

For more information

West Point Public Schools: 804-843-4368.

Rappahannock Community College (Glenns campus): 804-758-6700.

Jacobs can be reached by phone at 757-298-6007.

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